PELHAM, Ala. (WSFA) - In week one of Hiking with Hailey, we traveled to Oak Mountain State Park. Located in Pelham, just south of Birmingham, it is the largest state park in Alabama.
“It sits at 9,940 acres, so just under 10,000 acres,” said park naturalist Lauren Muncher. “It was built in the 1930s as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal to give young, single men jobs. We have anything from hiking, biking, to horseback riding, fishing, swimming, kayaking - all kinds of stuff. It’s very family-friendly, so that’s our main group is families.”
The park is open every day from 7 am to 8 pm. To learn more about the hiking, biking, and all other amenities, check them out online.
One of the more popular hikes at Oak Mountain is the Treetop Nature Trail.
“So [Treetop Nature Trail] is going to take you from the parking lot of our beach all the way to the Interpretive Center and the Wildlife Center, where you can check out some birds and some reptiles,” said Muncher. “The Wildlife Center is a rehabilitation center for wild birds, and the Interpretive Center is like our Nature Center. There’s a creek that runs along the way, there’s beautiful trees, you’re in the shade the whole way - it’s just a beautiful trail.”
Treetop Nature Trail also showcases some of the birds that are taken care of by park staff, all of which have been rescued and can no longer live in the wild. Princess, an albino turkey vulture, is one of the biggest attractions, but you can meet other species of owls and hawks along the way.
Oak Mountain is also home to wild critters of all shapes and sizes.
“We’re a part of the Appalachian Highland Birding trail, so there’s a lot of really cool native birds," Muncher added. "We have bobcats, coyotes, every species of squirrel that is in Alabama, we have those. Every once in a while we have the occasional bear that passes through, which is really neat. And then, of course, you have butterflies, wild flowers, a few endangered species of trees and plants as well.”
While many businesses were forced to close in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oak Mountain and other state and local parks were allowed to stay open, which mean business was booming along the trails.
“Some of our facilities were closed still, but we did have the park open for people to come get nature therapy. The state parks system decided it was best to still have our wild spaces open so people could still come and enjoy the outdoors even during the coronavirus. So it did affect us in that we had to close some of our facilities, but we actually got busier during that time,” said Muncher.
Of course, there are still many dangers that can come with hiking through natural trails. That’s why Senior Park Ranger Luther Davis encourages visitors to be prepared when coming to the park and recommends keeping safety as a top priority.
“Some trails are easy, some trails are long, some trails are steep, so you want to hike on the most comfortable trail for you,” he said. “Some of your safety equipment includes a hydration pack, a first aid kit, a cell phone, and you want to make sure you never hike alone.”
But the most important part of hiking at Oak Mountain, is having fun and taking care of mother nature by respecting the wildlife and picking up after yourself.